Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets notes: Kupchak hands off regarding Borrego’s player rotations

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak says he hasn’t, and wouldn’t, tell coach James Borrego who to play.

Kupchak hired Borrego off the San Antonio Spurs staff. In Borrego’s first full season as an NBA head coach, he frequently tinkered with his rotation. Kupchak said he’s in constant communication with Borrego, but it’s not his place to dictate playing time to the coach.

“I’m not going to go in and second-guess, and tell him who to play and who not to play,” Kupchak said in a post-season media press conference.

“I don’t meddle, and I don’t think Michael (Jordan, the Hornets owner) meddles, either.”

Borrego finished his first season 39-43, and the Hornets were in playoff contention until the final game. Kuphak said he was happy with the job Borrego did. Borrego said Thursday he’s pleased with how aligned he, Kupchak and Jordan are.

Kupchak oversaw the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball operation for about 20 years, so he has abundant experience overseeing coaches.

“I’m not in the trenches like (Borrego) is; I don’t deal with players on a day-to-day basis,” Kupchak said. “My job is to hire a coach and let the coach do his job. At some point if the coach is not doing his job, then it is my job to make the decision to get a new coach.”

Stay ready

Kupchak was pleased with how Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham embraced the time they spent with the G-League Greensboro Swarm. By the end of the season, second-year player Bacon was a starter and rookie Graham was the backup point guard.

Kupchak said playing with the Swarm helped Bacon and Graham stay in shape when the Hornets weren’t practicing much.

Kupchak said not playing doesn’t give players license to say they aren’t ready when opportunity comes, whether it be because of injury or coaching decisions.

“The last thing I want to hear from somebody who gets an opportunity and doesn’t do well is, ‘I haven’t been playing, so how do you expect me to play well?’” Kupchak said. “This is the NBA; you have to stay ready.”

Player development

Kupchak was asked about the Hornets’ last two lottery picks: Malik Monk, chosen 11th overall in 2017, and rookie Miles Bridges, 12th in 2018 via trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Kupchak said Bridges made a big jump the last four games of the season: “I saw a guy locked-in defensively, that didn’t tire, that ran the floor.” Kupchak added that he challenged Bridges to push hard this summer for improvement.

“You can’t sit back and say, ‘I’m a starter in the NBA.’ You may have ended the season as a starter, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a starter at the beginning of (next) season. In this league, nothing is a given. It’s earned.”

Kupchak said he liked the strides Monk made in the last three weeks, and called Monk possibly the Hornets’ best athlete.

He said the Hornets have to be patient with Monk because he’s still young (just turned 21 at the end of his second season), but the onus is on him to figure out how to defend bigger guards.

“He’s got to get stronger,” Kupchak said. “Sometimes at 6-2, he’s going to have to guard guys who are 6-4 and 6-5. So being 180 or 175 pounds is not going to get it done.”

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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